TED Richard

Foresight, Why and how


Working with foresight over the past years, I have had the opportunity of interacting with many corporations and discussing this topic with many managers and executives of different industries. All of them have one thing in common; they want to maintain the future relevance of their companies and often ask why does my company need foresight and how do I implement it?

Why do I need Foresight?

When I am on the road driving, I have the habit of keeping situational pictures in my head of what is going on around me. My head is often moving around and my eyes are constantly checking my surroundings for other vehicles, signs, gaps, trucks, pedestrians and so on. Why? Because I want to know where to go if something arises in my way. Simple, straight forward and very out-of-the-book defensive driving. When the movie Premium Rush came out in 2012, I felt identified with the “driving mind” of the main actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, simply because of the way options were shown as he speeded against some obstacle up ahead. However, through time and experience I started to look around even further, trying to foresee what other traffic participants would do if faced with a drastically changing situation and how would that affect me. You can say I was looking two or three action degrees ahead to create an even smoother ride for me; this is what I started to call “foresight driving”.

Everyday business in corporations tends to blind us from looking around, we are very caught up in solving this or that operational- financial- technical- issue; which is important; but we forget to look around and prepare our next move (or two) to maintain or create relevance on the long run. So imagine now you are driving your car and you don’t have rear view mirrors, you are not able to move your head from side to side, you are wearing sunglasses in the dark of night and you only have one eye open. Driving like this makes it difficult to see what is happening around your vehicle and prevents you from getting a full picture of the possible maneuvering options. Surprisingly enough many companies and corporations handle their future preparedness in the same way.

Of course, business and corporations want be profitable and create revenue at the end of the year, but you want to do this year after year and the year after that and so on. Therefore, we need to start opening the other eye, taking off the sunglasses at night, moving our head from side to side and using the rear view mirrors. This means we need to start applying foresight to our company doings in a constant and proactive way, only like this, we are able to see and understand what lies ahead and how it can be dealt with. But, please don’t get me wrong and think that foresight eliminates all the surprises that the future brings. Life and business will not be fun if everything is 100% predictable, and since the future cannot be predicted, it is more about anticipating and being prepared than that of completely deleting surprise.

I have seen many examples of companies that either don’t apply foresight or they apply it in a very vague and non-focused way, this leads them to have good years with innovative ideas but once their environment changes they wonder why business is not working out as it should. They feel blocked and have the sense they are being attacked everywhere, like running though a mine field in the middle of war with explosions left and right and surprises everywhere. Why? They are in reactive mode, reading financials, looking at cost optimization projects, creating task forces and war rooms and what not.

I definitely do not want to feel this type of hectic stress in my everyday work and I am sure many employees won’t like to either. So let us look at the main benefits of foresight and what is it about:

– Widening our field of vision to understand risks and opportunities that are excluded by the traditional planning process

– We go further to better understand the drivers of change so that we can have a firm grip of which elements we should influence and act upon to build our future

– Thinking in open and diverse ways

– Challenging our current beliefs and asking questions that will shake our core, yet with enough time in advance that we can adjust and not let the future catch us by surprise.

– Understanding situations and their complex contexts, in other words looking at WHY things happen

– Sparking creativity and new ideas, products, services, solutions, strategies, etc.

– Challenging and upgrading our strategic and decision robustness

– Being one step (or two or three) ahead of change elements for our business

– Creating a strong intra-company direction, where future alignment is present and bearings are given

Overall, it is a strong element that is deeply connected to your products, your services, your environment, your market, your strategy, your decisions, your planning, your direction and most of all who you are and who you will become in the future.

How do I implement Foresight?

Now that we have set the case for foresight, it is also important to know what elements are need in the implementation. From corporation to corporation, the implementation form will vary and needs to be in line with the way of work and corporate culture. The main objective is to introduce the element of foresight so that it is widely and constantly used to check and challenge our corporate future actions.

This means, on one hand it should be flexible covering different areas and topics of relevance within the company and on the other hand it should be distinctive and action oriented enough to create impact. It sounds like a challenge, being flexible but still being action oriented. This is the dilemma of every new activity that needs to be implemented in a company, especially when it is not directly linked to some profit and loss chart that gives direct approval for the execution of such effort.

So let me list some of the generic elements that should come into play when devising the implementation of foresight within a corporation:

– Management involvement and leadership support

– Preliminary approach development and roll out plan

– Flexible methodology and tools

– Specific result generation to show value add and achievement of corporate goals

– Communication and dissemination elements

– Process inclusion

– Expansion plan for methods and philosophy enactment (change, culture and mindset elements)

– … and a whole lot of entrepreneurial spirit.

Each one of these elements may vary in definition and understanding from corporation to corporation, nevertheless they serve as a basis for the long road ahead in the cultural transformation of a future oriented business. This type of change is not to be taken for granted, it does not happen automatically and it is not a matter of simply appointing a vice-president of foresight. It is a matter of a strong culture shift and the implementation of a future oriented philosophy that is present not only within the function of innovation but lived in all roles of the decision making chain.

The role of foresight in large and small firms takes a growing importance with every passing day, influencing your products, your strategy, your decisions, your market, and your position on all of these areas. I share the excitement and passion of working with all kinds of people that are exploring, understanding and are even expert practitioners of foresight in improving and developing companies in this discipline, promoting a modern way of leadership and helping to find ways for future relevance. For sure, we as foresight practitioners are not enough and the need is there to bring the future into organizations to challenge what we are doing today and create room to shape tomorrow. If this sounds fascinating and you are interested in creating your own implementation, do not hesitate in contacting me to discuss the possibilities.

TED Richard

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